By Leighann McCoy
I kind of like the way the Pharisee’s thought. They had everything figured out. It was easy to know when people were behaving or not, for they could just check said person’s behavior against their list of dos and don’ts. Of course, they spent hours interpreting God’s laws and recording those interpretations. But in a heated debate and with a solid vote they could just know! They didn’t have to wonder. The Pharisees didn’t have to deal with sticky stuff like mercy and grace.
Making a List and Checking It Twice
I lived a lot of my ministry years as a Pharisee and didn’t even know it. The checklist mentality crept into my formative years. It appeared in the third grade when my Sunday School teacher personally delivered my new “quarterly” and my own box of offering envelopes to my home. I sensed a warm expansion in my chest on Saturday nights when I was able to proudly put a little check next to the boxes on those envelopes: Bible read — CHECK! Church attendance — CHECK! Offering given — CHECK! Scripture memory — CHECK!
I like the way I felt when I placed my red checks in those black boxes. So I began making religious checklists of my own. My internal list went something like this: Church attendance — CHECK! Bible study blanks filled in — CHECK! Hospital visit — CHECK! But then there was more — no drinking of alcoholic beverages — CHECK! No gossiping (prayer requests excluded) — CHECK! No wild parties — CHECK! Just like the Pharisee’s my list went on and on.
This internal list made life simple for me. I could quickly determine if you were in or out, saved or lost, growing or dying. And I could spend all my time with those who were in, saved and growing because together we could complete a whole lot of Bible studies, raise thousands of dollars for missions and spend hours praying for one another’s families. I would have never wanted to admit it, but along the way I grew quite able to turn a deaf ear to those that were out, lost or dying.
Make Room for Mercy and Grace
But as my children became adults they didn’t make the list. Even though they were “good” kids, they chose not to abide by some of the rules on my list. They saw my dos and don’ts and they respected me for them, but they decided they could actually have personal, powerful, intimate relationships with God and … do some things that my list forbade.
One of my children disregarded the list altogether and when it seemed that she was running full speed ahead in the opposite direction of God, she landed smack dab in the middle of His lap. Her wrong became my “just right” and that little bundle of joy who calls me “Nana” left me with no words to describe what happened to us during those years except these two — the sticky ones the Pharisees never could place on their list: mercy and grace (in enormous portions).
Jesus spent a lot of His earthly ministry time challenging the Pharisees to get rid of their lists. He suggested a new way of living. Jesus came to give us life not lists. I dare you to let go of your list and grab hold of His Life. His mercy and grace are sticky enough to keep you there.
If death got the upper hand through one man’s wrongdoing, can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, sovereign life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift, this grand setting-everything-right, that the one man Jesus Christ provides? All that passing laws against sin did was produce more lawbreakers. But sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life — a life that goes on and on and on, world without end” (Romans 5:17, 20-21 The Message).
Leighann McCoy is a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. She is the senior pastor’s wife at Thompson Station Church, Thompson Station, Tenn., a mother of three, a LifeWay Ministry Multiplier and a writer and speaker. Currently, she serves on staff at Thompson Station Church as the prayer and women’s minister, and is a frequent speaker at women’s events and prayer conferences. Throughout her ministry, she has served in several denominational positions relating to children and women’s ministries. She is the author of 10 books, including Spiritual Warfare for Women and A Woman’s Guide to Hearing God’s Voice.